As a change of pace during his pre-tournament news conference in Columbus, Iona coach Tim Cluess was asked about something that had absolutely nothing to do with his preparation for the daunting ordeal of playing No. 1 seed North Carolina, which went on to beat his Gaels, 88-73, Friday night. The question to Cluess involved what he thought about the season that his alma mater had.
He took a long pause and replied, “Which one?”
Cluess went to St. John’s but graduated from Hofstra and, with a grin, acknowledged that the question was about the latter, the CAA regular-season champion that played a solid game in the NIT.
“I thought they did a terrific job. I thought Joe [Mihalich, the coach] did a terrific job,” he said. “I thought they were going to beat North Carolina State the other night. I was rooting for them. They were close to getting in the [NCAA] Tournament. I wish they’d won the conference championship game. But they’ve really turned the corner with that program.”
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery was just as happy for the Pride. He was a freshman at LaSalle High School in Philadelphia when Mihalich was a senior, and later teamed with Joe’s brother, Matt, to form the team’s starting backcourt. Their mothers were close friends.
“Joe and I are good buddies,” said McCaffery, whose team will play Tennessee Sunday for a trip to the Sweet Sixteen. “He has done an unbelievable job. He loves it there. He was at Niagara when I was at Siena so we coached against each other a lot. I’m always pulling for him.”